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Stem cells used to build windpipe for girl in experimental procedure

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

CHICAGO — A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.

Hannah Warren has been unable to breathe, eat, drink or swallow on her own since she was born in South Korea in 2010. Until the operation at a central Illinois hospital, she had spent her entire life in a hospital in Seoul. Doctors there told her parents there was no hope and they expected her to die.

The stem cells came from Hannah's bone marrow, extracted with a special needle inserted into her hip bone. They were seeded in a lab onto a plastic scaffold, where it took less than a week for them to multiply and create a new windpipe.

About the size of a 3-inch tube of penne pasta, it was implanted April 9 in a nine-hour procedure.

Early signs indicate the windpipe is working, Hannah's doctors announced on Tuesday, although she is still on a ventilator. They believe she will eventually be able to live at home and lead a normal life.

“We feel like she's reborn,” said Hannah's father, Darryl Warren.

“They hope that she can do everything that a normal child can do but it's going to take time. This is a brand new road that all of us are on,” he said. “This is her only chance but she's got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one.”

Warren choked up and his wife, Lee Young-mi, was teary-eyed at a hospital news conference. Hannah did not attend because she is still recovering from the surgery. She developed an infection after the operation but now is acting like a healthy 2-year-old, her doctors said.

Warren said he hopes the family can bring Hannah home for the first time in a month or so.

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